According to observers and experts, this absence highlights the growing compromises that Canada must make with the Royal Canadian Navy, struggling with a reduced fleet of aging ships and a lack of qualified sailors.
Since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Canada has always been part of the standing maritime groups of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It has always deployed at least one Halifax-class frigate in the North Atlantic or the Mediterranean, on rotation.
Last March, as part of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Liberal government made a point of deploying a second frigate to the region. This vessel was originally scheduled to be deployed for several months in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East.
But National Defense Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande admitted that Canada has not deployed any frigate to any of the NATO’s maritime groups.NATOsince the HMCS Montreal and the HMCS Halifax returned to their home port July 15 in Halifax.
” This is the first time this has happened since 2014. »
The spokeswoman linked the decision not to send new frigates to Europe to the deployment of two of these ships in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the maintenance and training needs of the fleet of Halifax-class ships.
Canada instead deployed two small Kingston-class coastal defense vessels to work with another maritime group from theNATOwhich focuses on searching for enemy mines and clearing mines.
Chief of the Defense Staff General Wayne Eyre said this will allow Canadian sailors to gain experience in an important area of naval warfare, while showing Canada’s commitment to European security.
But in an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, he conceded that resources were limited and that the general staff had to make decisions about when and where Canadian engagements would take place.
He added that he approved of the decision to send two frigates to the Pacific, where tensions between the West and China are rising,
because we deliberately want to increase our presence in Asia-Pacific, since we are a Pacific nation.
China last week launched a massive military drill around Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing considers its territory, following a visit to Taipei by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The exercise took place amid growing fears of a possible Chinese invasion.
University of Calgary shipbuilding expert Timothy Choi believes the decision to send two frigates to Europe at the same time earlier this year played a significant role in limiting the Atlantic Fleet’s ability to deploy in the short term another frigate.
In my opinion, this does not mean that the availability of ships and crews has deteriorated in recent yearssays Mr. Choi.
” Rather, they are the unavoidable consequences of forcing a small fleet to concentrate more resources in a shorter amount of time, which results in more time needed to recover. »
Difficult to repair
But defense analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute predicts that Canada will have to make increasingly difficult compromises about where to deploy its warships, given the size and of the state of its navy.
With Canada’s military fleet numbering 12 frigates, Perry said the navy’s maintenance and training needs mean that only a few ships can be deployed at any given time. Canada also had three destroyers, but those ships were retired in 2014.
Not to mention the increasing age of the frigates, which entered service in the 1990s and are becoming increasingly difficult to repair and maintain, according to senior officers and internal reports.
Adam MacDonald, a former naval officer now studying at Dalhousie University in Halifax, believes the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Armed Forces will also face increasing pressure to maintain a presence in Europe, Asia and the arctic,
because there are going to be requests in these three regions – in addition to the regions where Canada is already present: the Caribbean, West Africa and South America, he says.
The federal government is overseeing the construction of a new fleet of military ships to replace frigates and destroyers, but the multi-billion dollar project has suffered repeated cost overruns and delays.
And the navy, like the rest of the army, also faces a severe shortage of personnel.
Meanwhile, MacDonald predicts that the Kingston-class minesweepers will be in high demand as the Royal Canadian Navy faces growing demands overseas.